by Josie Kafka
Crème de Menthe Bars are the Christmas cookie in my family. Growing up, we would make them as soon as school vacation started, and Christmas never feels like Christmas to me without a layer of chocolate, a layer of mint, and another layer of chocolate. It’s like a chocolate-mint sandwich. In fact, it’s 8 inches by 13 inches of chocolate-mint sandwiches that you can cookie-cutter into fun shapes, if you want.
It’s surprising, given the enshrined tradition of an annual binge, that it took me until age 26 to realize the original recipe, which my mother and I had been using for years, had raw egg in it. Yep, there’s egg in the bottom layer, and in the original version, the bottom layer required no cooking or heating of any kind. But we never got ill, and never poisoned anyone (that I know of).
Nonetheless, I’ve adapted this recipe from my mother’s version, which she probably got from someone she knew growing up in the Midwest. It is a bar-cookie, after all, and that’s what the Midwest is known for. Now, the eggs are cooked and the mint layer is mintier.
I’ve never tried to make this gluten- or wheat-free, but it would be easy to do. The only layer that requires anything glutenish is the bottom: graham cracker crumbs. There are so many gluten-free cookies available today that you could easily buy a box, smash the cookies into crumbs, and use those instead.
1 ½ cups butter
½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar (in my mother’s handwriting: “sifter not crucial”)
1 beaten egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup crème de menthe liqueur
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
Equipment: a large saucepan and an 8 x 13 baking pan
• Preheat the oven to 300 or so.
• Combine ½ cup butter and cocoa powder in a large saucepan.
• Heat and stir; remove from heat when melty.
• Add ½ cup powdered sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla.
• Stir in graham cracker crumbs. Mix well.
• Press into an 8 x 13 greased pan.
• Stick the pan in the oven for as long as you want to get the egg cooked. I usually leave it in there while I do the middle layer, then take it out.
• Clean that large saucepan; you’re going to use it again.
• Melt ¾ butter over low heat.
• Stir in crème de menthe.
• Beat in the rest of the sugar until smooth.
• Keep stirring until you’re confident that you’ve leeched out all the alcohol. Or, just stop whenever. No one’s ever gotten drunk from one of these things, and I’d give one to a child without worrying. (Then again, see above, re: raw egg. Do you really think you should trust me?)
• Spread over the bottom layer.
• Chill one hour.
• Clean that saucepan again.
• Combine ¼ butter and the chocolate chips.
• Stir over low heat until melty.
• Spread over mint layer. (If you haven’t let the mint layer really cool, the mint will get all up in the chocolate top layer. This isn’t a disaster, and can look neat.)
• Chill for while to let the top chocolate layer set.
These can be difficult to cut right out of the refrigerator, and I think they taste best at room temperature. (How did the raw egg not kill us? How am I still alive?!) You could probably freeze them, too, but I've never had enough left over to try.